Guest post – DigiLearn: Facilitating online learning discussions in Microsoft Teams
Author: Jean Duckworth – Senior Lecturer (School of Community Health and Midwifery)
In 2005 I started my personal journey teaching online postgraduate courses. Over that time technology has undergone vast changes and these changes have enabled the course team to take advantage of these developments to enhance the student experience. Hazel Partington has already discussed our induction processes and how these are shaped for the e-learner. Consequently, I have chosen to review our initial experiences using Teams™.
I first became aware of Teams over the summer of 2018. Initially cautious, I started to explore its capabilities and moved the students over to using Teams instead of the discussion boards on Blackboard. The discussion boards are an important and integral element in our delivery of online modules.
In 2006 out of a group of 24 learners we would see discussion boards of 200 threads, in 2017 this was single figures. In reflecting upon the diminishing use of the discussion boards we felt that the model was no longer meeting the needs of the students, the boards now felt cumbersome and needed a student to go into blackboard and then into the discussion boards before posting and the whole system lacked immediacy and dynamism.
My module has around 60 e-learning students. This number, for me, exceeds the optimum number of learners in a single 20 credit module given that we also have scheduled seminars with up to 12 learners. So my aim in using Teams was to create a conduit for their further engagement with their peers and with tutors, and to develop a real learning community.
So what have I learned so far? The first is that not all students find it easy to get on and use Teams. It needs some instruction, and for our modules this is a Sway™ or voice over power point™ showing them how to use it. Students must feel some benefit to using it and that it doesn’t just become another place they have to look for information. Although I have not needed them yet, I intend to develop a statement on Blackboard about behaviour norms/expectations and treatment of others should any situations develop. The other thing I intend to do is to provide discussion points taken from the module to help get the conversations going and to provide a focus for discussion. On a large module it is easy for students to be reticent about posting thinking that their contribution is not good enough. This needs to be addressed in an empathetic, encouraging way.
Although engagement is generally good on Teams, there are some students who do not want to use Teams, and the implications of this need addressing. These are my initial thoughts, and I intend to evaluate Teams from the student perspective early next year once the module has finished, and take this learning into my semester 2 modules. If anyone else is interested in exploring some of these issues then please contact me.